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Until the bitter end, Taylor Heise's Gopher teammates came first

As she moves to the next stage of her hockey career, the former Ms. Hockey winner and Minnesota Gophers star took one last look back at her final game in maroon and gold.

college women's ice hockey practice
Minnesota forward Taylor Heise (9) skates with the puck during practice for the Frozen Four at Amsoil Arena on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH – Before it was all over, Minnesota Gophers star Taylor Heise offered teammates some well-received words of encouragement. And, admittedly, a few bits of profanity slipped in as well.

It was the third period of the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals at Amsoil Arena on Friday night, and after leading most of the game via Heise’s 30th goal of the season, two scores in less than a minute by the Wisconsin Badgers had Minnesota on the short side of the scoreboard, with under 10 minutes to go in regulation.

During a stoppage in the play, Heise called for a football-style huddle of the Gophers on the ice. Immediately, she thought of her future, and the futures of her teammates.

“I just said ‘Don’t give up.’ I know I have hockey in my future, and it’s a hard thing to turn around if you don’t. I know a lot of the girls in that group do not, so I told them, ‘Guys, you can’t give up. At the end of the day if you give your full tank out there and do everything you can, we can’t hang our heads about anything,’” she recalled, an hour or so after the Gophers had rallied to tie, only to fall in overtime. And Heise admitted that in the heat of the moment, parts of her speech may have been R-rated.

“Honestly, there were probably some swear words in there, but it was a time for me to be able to say, ‘Let’s do it. We can do this, we’re a really good team and let’s go out there and prove it.’”


women college hockey players practice
Minnesota forward Taylor Heise (9) speaks during a press conference after practice for the Frozen Four at Amsoil Arena on Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Gophers, ranked atop the national polls for part of the season, and winners of the WCHA tournament, did just that, drawing even with their goalie on the bench, when a Madeline Wethington shot caught a fortunate deflection near the Badgers crease and found the back of the net, forcing overtime. There, the Badgers prevailed on the way to their seventh NCAA title, but Heise said the Gophers’ unwavering faith in themselves made a difference.

“I believed in us from the beginning, but getting to 2-2 at the end, that belief went even higher,” she said, before getting some post-game dinner with family, and having a subdued celebration of her 23rd birthday. “Overtime, it’s the luck of bounces.”

.. so I told them, ‘Guys, you can’t give up. At the end of the day if you give your full tank out there and do everything you can, we can’t hang our heads about anything,'
Taylor Heise

After Heise’s goal early in the game, she nearly made it 2-0 on a lopsided rush to the net later, only to be thwarted by the Badgers goalie. It was fairly typical “lead by example” stuff for the former Ms. Hockey winner from Lake City, Minn., who had gotten the Patty Kazmaier Award – given to the top player in women’s college hockey – a year earlier.

With Heise’s early offense versus the Badgers, teammate Gracie Ostertag said the Gophers were all expecting, “Patty with the hatty,” before it was all done. Heise laughed at that prediction, and revealed that her nickname was in place long before she won the game’s top individual award, which has that same name.

“My mother is funny. I have a moped, and it’s green. And because I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, she told me to name it Patty,” Heise revealed. “That was even before last year. So I guess it’s just been in the business.”

Hockey: Rivalry Series-Canada at USA
Team United States forward Taylor Heise (27) collides with Team Canada forward Marie-Philip Poulin (29) during the third period of a Rivalry Series women's ice hockey game Dec. 15, 2022 at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev.
Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, Heise was left off the Olympic roster. She responded to that perceived slight by becoming college hockey’s top player in 2022, and grabbing MVP honors at last summer’s Women’s World Championships. Tryouts for the 2023 Team USA roster start next week in Blaine, and this time, Heise has little doubts that she will be on the squad headed to Ontario in search of gold.

“I’ll be at Worlds in two weeks,” she said, matter-of-factly. “After that, I don’t know yet.”

Breaking News
In an unexpected move, the two-time national champion player will not be back with at the U of M after two seasons working for head coach Brad Frost and helping her alma mater to the Frozen Four.
With much of his offense returning, we expect coach Bob Motzko will add three forwards, three defensemen and a goalie to a roster that was within a few minutes of winning the NCAA title in April.
After leading the Gophers offensively in his final college season, some thought NHL success was inevitable for the Finnish forward. After battling injuries in the AHL, he is back in Europe.
Larson has international experience from his stint as an Olympic assistant coach in 2022, while Miller will be working his seventh World Juniors for Team USA, and looking for his third gold medal.
A prep state champion as a sophomore, Begley spent parts of the last two seasons in the NAHL, most recently with the Wisconsin Windigo where he was the team's top-scoring defenseman.
Starting next season, men's and women's season-ticket holders for the Minnesota Gophers will be able to return seats they cannot use and get credit for future season ticket purchases.
The defenseman originally from southern California was a four-year regular on the U of M blue line, and a first-round pick of Buffalo in 2019.
Transfers from St. Lawrence, Princeton and UMD will help bolster the Gophers on the back end next season as they try to find a way back to the Frozen Four and repeat as WCHA tourney champs.
The Minnesota Gophers center led the team in scoring on the way to a Big Ten title and a trip to the NCAA title game, and recently announced he will return for a sophomore college hockey season.
Fargo native Trent Wiemken has gone 8-1-1 in the Robertson Cup playoffs as the mainstay goalie for the Austin Bruins playoffs while working with former Minnesota Gophers goalie Nick Lehr's coaching.
The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner is coming off a senior campaign where he notched career highs in goals and points while playing right wing on the Gophers' second line much of the season.
When the vote to build a new Arizona Coyotes rink in Tempe failed, a big piece of their future decided that NHL hockey can wait another year, and Logan Cooley announced his return to the U of M.

As for the bitter end, it was fading into the rear view mirror already when Heise spoke, her hair still wet from the postgame showers. There would be plenty of time to process how abruptly the college career of one of the all-time great Gophers concluded. But in the immediate wake, she was left feeling thankful.


“Just really grateful to be part of this group,” Heise said. “I think we did something special and obviously didn’t get some of the bounces. But I’m still really proud of everyone and how we did, for sure.”

Breaking news, photos, bracket info and more from the 2023 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four set for March 17 through 19 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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